Connect with us

Television

HBO’s new unscripted drag series debuts April 23

HBO’s new unscripted drag series debuts April 23

Published

on

We're Here, gay news, Washington Blade

Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela and Eureka O’Hara in ‘We’re Here.’ (Photo courtesy HBO)

“We’re Here,” a new unscripted series on HBO, highlights the talents of Bob the Drag Queen (Caldwell Tidicue), Eureka O’Hara (David Huggard) and Shangela Laquifa Wadley (D.J. Pierce). In six weekly episodes, debuting on April 23, the three queens visit a small town and recruit local residents to participate in a one-night only drag show. They break out the wigs and high heels and provide their new drag daughters with support and empowerment as they encourage them to step outside their comfort zone for a night of no-holds-barred, full-on drag.

The first episode takes the queens to Gettysburg, Pa., where they help a conservative Christian mother reconnect with her daughter who recently came out as bisexual. Subsequent episodes are set in Twin Falls, Idaho, where the queens help a trans man and his wife renew their wedding vows in style; Branson, Mo., where they help a classically trained actor express himself as a gay man; and, other small towns across America.

The series is directed by Peter LoGreco (“Dogs of War”).

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Television

Omar, Netflix’s Elite, & Queer Palestinian representation

With valid critiques of Elite aside, the show provides a monumental step forward in combating both racism and homophobia

Published

on

Elite (2018)/Netflix

By Sa’ed Atshan | ATLANTA – Elite, the Spanish Netflix original series released in 2018, has now become a worldwide sensation. Created by Carlos Montero and Dario Madrona, Elite follows the lives of teenagers and classmates at Las Encinas, a fictional private school for wealthy children from Spain and other countries.

There are several students from lower socio-economic backgrounds on full scholarships, and the series explores their intersecting experiences in the community. Over the course of the five existing seasons, taboos are boldly displayed on screen: from racy sexuality, to rape, abortion, drugs, alcohol, crime, murder, and corruption.

While this may be too much for many viewers, the provocative themes, attractive actors, love triangles, extensive scenes of partying, compelling cinematography, and the psychological thriller aspects of the series have galvanized fans in Europe and beyond. Merely a month after its release, Netflix revealed that Elite was streamed by over 20 million accounts. It has since secured a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has become one of the most successful shows globally. 

Alongside the superficial elements of this show lies a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of the central characters’ inner worlds and the profound issues with which they grapple. This includes the salience of class and inequality in society, the power of education for social mobility, immigration, racism, and xenopohobia, the role of law in attaining or evading justice, feminism and the struggle for women’s rights, the prevalence of internalized and external homophobia, the command of technology, social media, and surveillance on our lives, and the effects on young people of having to grow up and mature too quickly. 

I was particularly captivated by the character of Omar, played by a Spanish actor with the same first name: Omar Ayuso. While many of the characters who appear in the earlier seasons do not return, Omar is present for all five seasons thus far, becoming central to the overarching narrative.

His Palestinian background is emphasized in the script and on screen and this is huge for the mainstreaming of Palestinians in Western popular media. Omar’s gayness is also clearly highlighted, bringing queer Palestinian lives to the screen in a formidable manner. 

While Omar Ayuso was not one of the most experienced actors and is not the most talented of the actors in this series, his character undergoes a transformation that is powerful and compels audiences. His dark features are handsome, with a signature unibrow, and his attire becomes more and more colorful and expressive, and his bodily comportment more comfortable, as he grows more secure in his own skin. 

We learn that Omar comes from the Shanaa family and is the son of Palestinian Muslim immigrants to Spain who own a small grocery store outside of Madrid. One of his sisters ran away from home to escape their conservative parents and his other sister, Nadia, is also a central character in Elite.

Omar and Nadia’s father is overbearing. Like their mother, Nadia wears the hijab. The mother is soft-spoken and unassuming in many ways, yet Nadia is a force to be reckoned with who aspires to balance pleasing her family with being true to herself. Nadia is brilliant and academically-driven, earning a scholarship to Las Encinas, even as Omar is distracted initially with drug-dealing and working for his family’s business.

After coming out as gay to himself, his family, and the broader community, he movies out and severs ties with his parents, secures work as a bartender, and receives a scholarship to attend Las Encinas. Omar embraces his sexuality and finds a way to lead a life that feels authentic. 

Elite challenges the Islamophobia of Spanish and Western societies, representing both the homophobia that Omar must endure alongside the racism that he experiences as an Arab in Europe. Spain’s long history with the Moors, the Inquisition, and modern migration from North Africa has made its relationship to the Middle East and Islam quite fraught.

The show does not romanticize Omar’s Palestinian immigrant family and it captures the even more dramatic delinquencies of many Spanish and European families. The audience cannot help but juxtapose how Omar’s parents desperately try to preserve notions of tradition, ethics, and honor from their homeland of Palestine amidst a broader landscape of decadence and moral decay in Western contexts.

Omar disavows elements of both the former and latter, while embracing elements of each, and he emerges as a moral compass in the show. His integrity and compassion are palpable and at one point he articulates an aspiration to become a social worker in the future. 

The love that Omar shares with his serious boyfriend, Ander, is beautifully portrayed as well. Though they certainly grapple with their own set of challenges, the chemistry and soulfuness between them is one of the highlights of the show.

Elite (2018)/Netflix

After Netflix posted a romantic photo of Omar and Ander on their Instagram page, it was met with homophobic comments, and Netflix laudably responded simply with a chain of rainbow emojis. 

With valid critiques of Elite aside, the show provides a monumental step forward in combating both racism and homophobia. Netflix has done the global queer Palestinian community right by developing the character of Omar in this manner. Whether or not he appears in season six is yet to be announced, but even if not, he will have already captured countless hearts and minds.

********************************

Sa’ed Atshan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Emory University and author of Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique (Stanford University Press, 2020)

Continue Reading

Television

‘LA: A Queer History’ Celebrating Pride Month

Additional programming honoring the history and impact of LGBTQ+ individuals includes a new film doc and a rebroadcast from AMERICAN MASTERS

Published

on

LA: A QUEER HISTORY (Courtesy of KCET)

BURBANK – PBS SoCal and KCET, Southern California’s flagship PBS stations, along with national independent satellite network Link TV, announced as part of Pride Month programming the broadcast world premiere of LA: A QUEER HISTORY. 

The two-part documentary film uncovers the history of how Los Angeles became the forefront of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement as activists share their groundbreaking stories of resistance in one-on-one interviews and rare archival footage.

From artists who helped shape early Hollywood to gay and lesbian organizing and beginning a national Civil Rights Movement, LGBTQ culture and community begins to take shape in the city of Angels. Part One, titled “Culture & Criminalization,” will immediately be followed by Part Two, “Protests and Parades” when the documentary premieres on Wed., June 15 at 8 p.m. on KCET and Thurs., June 16 at 8 p.m. on PBS SoCal.

Additional programming honoring the history and impact of LGBTQ+ individuals includes one new documentary and a rebroadcast from AMERICAN MASTERS that highlight the legacies of two theater legends: Joe Papp and Terrence McNally.

While Papp worked to expand public access to the arts as the founder of The Public Theater, and Free Shakespeare in the Park, four-time Tony-winning playwright McNally used the power of the arts to transform society both through his productions and his LGBTQ activism. Both programs include never-before-seen interviews.

While Stage and Screen Star Alan Cumming will join beloved British actor and fellow LGBTQ+ advocate Miriam Margolyes to uncover the country of their youth for the new travel series MIRIAM AND ALAN: LOST IN SCOTLAND as they take to the road and return to their Scottish roots and motorhome their way through Scotland’s Highlands and into its wildest places.  

And moving from the theater to the concert hall, PBS programming in June offers up a music special TRUE COLORS: LGBTQ+ OUR STORIES, OUR SONGS spotlighting a lineup of musical performances from LGBTQ+ artists Indigo Girls, Billy Gilman and Morgxn hosted by Harvey Fierstein.

Additional specials bring historical context to events of injustices like THE LAVENDER SCARE which explores the unrelenting campaign carried out by the federal government to remove employees suspected of being homosexual from government and security positions.

While A MURDER IN MONTROSE: THE PAUL BROUSSARD LEGACY follows how LGBTQ+ communities came together following a fatal hate crime, shedding light on civil unrest, legislation for victim’s rights and sparking political activism in the South.

There is also the new LINK VOICES documentary “Born To Be” which follows the work of Dr. Jess Ting whose work is changing the lives of transgender and gender non-binary individuals.

Rounding out the month is HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: YOUTH MENTAL ILLNESS, the two-part film executive produced by Ken Burns confronts issues of stigma, discrimination, awareness, and silence, to help shift public perception of mental health and LGBTQ+ issues today.

Select content slated to air on PBS SoCal, KCET and Link TV during the next month is listed as follows (*schedule subject to change):

AMERICAN MASTERS: “Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life” – Wed., June 1 at 9:30 p.m. on KCET

Explore four-time Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally’s six groundbreaking decades in theater, from Kiss of the Spider WomanThe Full Monty, Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class to RagtimeThe Visit and Mothers and Sons. The film also delves into McNally’s pursuit of love and inspiration throughout his career, LGBTQ activism, triumph over addiction and the power of the arts to transform society.

AMERICAN MASTERS: “Joe Papp in Five Acts” – Fri., June 3 at 9 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Joe Papp, founder of The Public Theater, Free Shakespeare in the Park and producer of groundbreaking plays like HairA Chorus Line and for colored girls…, created a “theater of inclusion” based on the belief that great art is for everyone.

TRUE COLORS: LGBTQ+ OUR STORIES, OUR SONGS – Sun., June 5 at 10 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Harvey Fierstein hosts music from LGBTQ+ artists including Indigo GirlsBilly Gilman and Morgxn highlighting real-life stories of hope.

LINK VOICES: “Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth” – Fri., June 10 at 10:30p.m. ET/PT on Link TV

Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay documents a transgender man’s path to parenthood after he decides to carry his child.

LINK VOICES: “Born To Be” – Fri., June 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Link TV

Follow the work of Dr. Jess Ting at the groundbreaking Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery. There, for the first time ever in New York City, transgender and gender non-binary people have access to quality gender-affirming care. With extraordinary access, this documentary offers an intimate look at how one doctor’s work impacts the lives of his patients as well as how his journey from renowned plastic surgeon to pioneering gender-affirming specialist has led to his own transformation.

INDEPENDENT LENS: “Cured” – Sat., June 11 at 11 p.m. on KCET

When homosexuality was considered a mental illness to be “cured,” renegade LGBTQ+ activists fought a powerful psychiatry establishment that had things dangerously backwards.

THE LAVENDER SCARE – Mon., June 13 at 10 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Narrated by Glenn Close and featuring the voices of Cynthia NixonZachary QuintoT. R. Knight and David Hyde Pierce, the film tells the little-known story of an unrelenting campaign by the federal government to identify and fire employees suspected of being homosexual. Based on the award-winning book by David K. Johnson.

PRIDELAND – Mon., June 13 at 11 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Follow queer actor Dyllón Burnside on a journey to discover how LGBTQ+ Americans are finding ways to live authentically and with pride in the modern-day South.

LA: A QUEER HISTORY: “Culture & Criminalization” – Wed., June 15 at 8 p.m. on KCET and Thurs., June 16 at 8 p.m. on PBS SoCal

From artists who helped shape early Hollywood to the male/female impersonators in the “pansy clubs”, early Hollywood becomes a Queer destination for people wanting a new life. Early LGBTQ culture and community begins to take shape just as the post WW2 era sparks widespread criminalization.

LA: A QUEER HISTORY: “Protests & Parades” – Wed., June 15 at 9 p.m. on KCET and Thurs., June 16 at 9 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Despite adversity, gay and lesbian organizing begins. Publications, protests and uprisings spring up, leading to the country’s first Pride Parade, LGBTQ Social Services, the first “Gay City” and an eventual national Civil Rights Movement.

MIRIAM AND ALAN: LOST IN SCOTLAND: “Episode One” – Thurs., June 16 at 10 p.m. on KCET

Starting in Glasgow, Miriam Margolyes and Alan Cumming visit the street where Miriam’s Jewish family first lived in Scotland, then journey north into the Highlands; Alan learns about his ancestral past at Cawdor Castle.

QUEER SILICON VALLEY – Thurs., June 16 at 10 p.m. on PBS SoCal and Wed., June 29 at 10 p.m. on KCET

Filmmakers Bob Gliner (We’re Still HereSchools That Change CommunitiesWalk the Walk) and Ken Yeager explore the rich history of Silicon Valley and its profound impact on the LGBTQ+ movement in the

United States.

AMERICA REFRAMED: “Broken Heartland” – Fri., June 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Link TV

When a gay teen kills himself, his parents are forced to reconcile their own beliefs.

A MURDER IN MONTROSE: THE PAUL BROUSSARD LEGACY – Mon., June 20 at 11:30 p.m. on PBS SoCal

In 1991, Paul Broussard, a 27-year-old gay man, was murdered on the streets of Houston. Through the documentary exposes the aftermath of this pivotal event – from civil unrest to hate crime legislation; from victim’s rights to political activism, Houston and the nation would never be the same again.

AMERICAN MASTERS: “Ballerina Boys” – Wed., June 22 at 8 p.m. on KCET

Discover Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (The Trocks), an all-male company that for 45 years has offered audiences their passion for ballet classics mixed with exuberant comedy. With every step, they poke fun at their strictly gendered art form.

MIRIAM AND ALAN: LOST IN SCOTLAND: “Episode Two” – Thurs., June 23 at 10 p.m. on KCET

Miriam Margolyes and Alan Cumming visit Ullapool and Glencoe on their love letter tour of Scotland. They meet a pagan witch, who involves them in an ancient healing ritual and Alan fulfils his dream of writing and performing a song in Gaelic.

AMERICA REFRAMED: “Little Miss Westie” – Fri., June 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Link TV

Two transgender siblings and their parents navigate puberty, school and dating as the children begin living in their authentic genders.

BREAKING BIG: “Lee Daniels” – Sat., June 25 at 6 p.m. on KCET

Trace Lee Daniels’ path from West Philly to the red-hot center of Hollywood. Learn how he conquered both the independent and mainstream sides of Hollywood, directing and producing critical darlings like “The Butler” and “Empire.”

BREAKING BIG: “Christian Siriano” – Sat., June 25 at 6:30 p.m. on KCET

Learn how sartorial savant Siriano parlayed confidence and a singular vision into a Project Runway victory. See how he surmounted rejection from FIT and created one of the most socially conscious and successful fashion lines in the industry.

POV: “Pier Kids” – Sat., June 25 at 11:30 p.m. on KCET

Follow the Black, homeless queer and trans youth who call NY’s Christopher Street Pier their home as they withstand tremendous amounts of homophobia and discrimination while working to carve out autonomy and security in their lives.

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: YOUTH MENTAL ILLNESS: “The Storm” – Mon., June 27 at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. on PBS SoCal

The first two-hour episode focuses on the lived experience of more than twenty young people with mental health challenges, along with the observations and insights of families, providers, and advocates.

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: YOUTH MENTAL ILLNESS: “Resilience” – Tues., June 28 at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. on PBS SoCal

In the second episode, our “heroes” speak about finding help, inpatient and outpatient therapy, the added stigma of racial or gender discrimination, the criminalization of mental illness and youth suicide.

GO FIGURE: THE RANDY GARDNER STORY – Wed., June 29 at 8 p.m. on KCET

An intimate documentary on the life and career of two-time Olympian Randy Gardner. Together with his Olympic partner Tai Babilonia, they formed the iconic figure skating pairs team known as “Tai and Randy.” The film shares one man’s quest to finally come to terms with his true identity so that he can be a light to others.

ARTBOUND: “LGBTQ Nightlife (Mustache Mondays)” – Wed., June 29 at 9 p.m. on KCET

For a generation of multicultural Queer artists, gay nightclubs were a haven for seeking communion and solidarity. This film examines the history of these spaces and how they shaped the Queer cultural fabric unique to Southern California. One particular event, “Mustache Mondays” was a weekly destination for over a decade and became a seminal event for the Queer art community in the early 2000s.

MIRIAM AND ALAN: LOST IN SCOTLAND: “Episode Three” – Thurs., June 30 at 10 p.m. on KCET

Miriam Margolyes and Alan Cumming finish their Scottish odyssey driving from Inverness to Edinburgh, and enjoy some vegan white pudding, kosher haggis, ‘Zen golf’ and dressing up along the way.

For a full schedule of Pride Month programming, please visit kcet.org/Pridepbssocal.org/Pride and linktv.org/Pride.

Join the conversation on social media using #KCET, #PBSSoCal and #Pride

Continue Reading

Television

Netflix scores queer triumph with ‘Heartstopper’

Series adapted from popular YA webcomic about teen boys who fall in love

Published

on

Kit Conner and Joe Locke star in ‘Heartstopper,’ streaming April 22. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

If we were only able to choose one word to describe “Heartstopper,” the new Netflix series adapted from Alice Oseman’s wildly popular 2017 YA webcomic about two teenage boys who fall in love, that word would have to be “adorable” — and it would be more than enough justification for an enthusiastic recommendation to start streaming it right now.

Fortunately, we don’t have to choose, and just in case there are some curmudgeons among our readers who avoid “adorable” content as a matter of principle, we can add quite a few more words just to make it clear that this is a show to win the heart of even the most cynical viewer and have them ready to binge it straight to the end after watching only the first five minutes.

For readers of Oseman’s original comic, no explanation is needed to convey the infectious blend of emotions that makes its simple love story so irresistible; with more than 52 million views to date and the bestselling print publication of four volumes so far, its quick and widespread popularity is proof enough of the story’s universal – and multi-intersectional – appeal. “Heartstoppers” is the story of Charlie and Nick, a pair of students at an English boys’ school with widely differing places in the school’s pecking order; Charlie, gentle and shy, has been bullied after being inadvertently outed as gay the previous year, and spends most of his time with a handful of other social misfits, while Nick, athletic and popular, is a rugby player who hangs out with his equally athletic and popular teammates. Yet when they end up sitting together in a class they share, the two become friends – much to the surprise of Charlie, who finds himself crushing on Nick despite assuming, along with everyone else, that he is straight. It’s not hard to see where things are going to go from there, even without spoilers, but that predictability does nothing to dampen the delight of following these two young and tender hearts as they negotiate the pangs and pressures of first love while navigating their school’s deeply ingrained social hierarchy.

With Oseman herself writing the adaptation, the series had an advantage right out of the gate when it came to translating that into a live-action format, and her fans have been eagerly awaiting it ever since Netflix announced it was happening in January of 2021. The resulting series – an all-too-brief season of eight half-hour episodes directed by BAFTA-winning “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” veteran Euros Lyn – will almost certainly lead millions of others to join their ranks.

The most important factor in bringing the story’s appeal to the screen is undoubtedly the casting of its two leading characters, and with newcomer Joe Locke as Charlie joining Kit Connor (“Rocketman,” “His Dark Materials”) as Nick, it’s hard to imagine how the show’s creators could have done better. Locke, with his soulful eyes and curly mop of hair, perfectly captures the look of the character as drawn, as does the cherubic, handsome Connor – but they bring much more than an apt appearance to their roles. 

In a story that requires them to delicately tread through a potentially fraught emotional landscape, facing scenarios with consequences ranging from the socially awkward to the deeply traumatic, they not only fulfill that duty effortlessly, but do so while meeting every moment with enough intelligence, sensitivity, and authenticity to make the already-relatable nuances of their young relationship resonate even more tangibly. Most essential of all, the tender chemistry they share is strong enough – and believable enough – to ensure that the almost unbearable sweetness of their blossoming romance never once feels sappy or insincere. It’s a fragile and difficult balance to maintain, but these two young actors pull it off with such unforced buoyancy that we are too busy floating on their cloud with them to even notice.

As right-on-target as the show’s portrayal of Nick and Charlie’s journey together may be, they are not the only LGBTQ+ characters in the mix. There’s Elle (Yasmin Finney), a member of Charlie’s circle until being transferred to the neighboring girls’ school after coming out as transgender, who is nervous about being accepted in her new environment. Also at the girls’ school is Tara (Corinna Brown), who once shared a kiss with Nick but is now on the verge of coming out and going public about her relationship with girlfriend Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). Finally, there’s Tao (William Gao), a protective friend and ally to them all (though his protective nature leads him to mistrust Nick’s intentions), who is beginning to recognize the stirrings of more than friendship with Elle.

Simply reading that roster might lead one to presume the show is trying to up the ante on inclusion by including as many colors in the rainbow as possible – and it’s worth mentioning that the cast of characters is made up of a diverse blend of ethnicities, too. Neither of these elements feel forced; those of us who know about life from more than just television surely recognize that seeing so many LGBTQ+ people and people of color mixed into one blended community together is not a stretch – it’s an accurate reflection of the real world. Even if that were not the case, the show asserts its sincerity by treating each of these characters and their stories with the same amount of kindness it affords Nick and Charlie; it even leaves room for us to pity characters like Ben (Sebastian Croft), a closeted boy who carries on a secret relationship with Charlie while refusing to acknowledge him in the halls, or Harry (Cormac Hyde-Corrin) a teammate of Nick’s who delights in tormenting anyone who doesn’t fit in, who are on hand to remind us that – increased acceptance notwithstanding – homophobia still exerts a toxic enough effect to make coming out a difficult path to undertake alone.

In answer to that, the show takes ample opportunity to explore the theme of chosen family; the way these friends help each other along the way, even as they themselves are trying not to stumble, serves as both an inspiration and a reminder to the countless viewers, whether LGBTQ or not, who know first-hand the bonds that grow from such experience. As for “real” families, they’re not left out of the picture, either: both Nick and Charlie have supportive (if not always helpful) parents in their lives, and Charlie’s older sister Tori (Jenny Walser) emerges every so often from her room like a denizen of the underworld rising to taunt him – lovingly, of course – with a truth or two.

By now, it feels like we’re gushing. After all, haven’t the last few years have seen any number of LGBTQ teen love stories coming to our screens? And hasn’t each of them been hailed as a milestone of representation? Haven’t queer elders remarked, each time, what a difference it would have made if they had seen such a film when they were growing up?

The thing is, though, that it’s been true each time — and sometimes, as it does with “Heartstopper” — it feels a little more true than usual.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular